The LSU men’s basketball team welcomed four new faces – including three freshmen - to the floor for Saturday’s season opener against Nicholls State.
After a 96-74 Tigers’ win, it’s evident that a new confidence on the offensive end has also arrived.
“With the addition of those four guys, we improve our skill level and ability to make plays,” LSU coach Trent Johnson said.
With 6-foot-9, 262-pounder Johnny O’Bryant and 7-0, 260-pounder Justin Hamilton added to the frontcourt, the LSU guards were able to work an inside-out game from start to finish.
It wasn’t perfect, but it showed promise after a 2009-10 season when 3-point shot selection was redefined as how many times then freshman Andre Stringer felt like pulling up beyond the arc.
“It’s a lot easier this year,” said sophomore guard Ralston Turner, who knocked down a pair of 3s. “As you notice, we have more depth inside now. We did a lot of kicking it inside and out, and it gave us a lot of shots. It helped us a lot.”
Johnson added: “You are able to throw the ball in to Johnny and get something done or throw it into Justin and get something done. It was early on and we went into the post to Justin, and he made a simple read and went inside-out back to Ralston for the 3.”
The LSU frontcourt combined for 43 of LSU’s 96 points, and seven Tigers scored in double-figures.
But it was 33 points from downtown, which included a second half when LSU hit 4-of-7 (57.1%) from 3-point range, which helped the Tigers keep a double-digit lead on the Colonels through much of the contest.
“(Anthony) Hickey is going to do a good job of breaking people down,” Turner said. “It’s our job to make open shots. That’s the way our offense is designed. There are a lot of opportunities to get open shots in our offense.”
Hickey added: “The point guard has to get everybody open and make everybody better. It’s up to them to knock down shots.
In his college debut, Hickey started – the first freshman point guard to earn a start in LSU’s season opener since Torris Bright in 2000 – and poured in a team-high 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting, including a 3-of-6 mark from 3-point range.
Stringer and Turner both finished with 12 points, and freshman John Isaac added 13 points off the bench. The three guards combined for seven 3-point buckets, and LSU finished the game 11-of-24 from beyond the arc.
Last season, the Tigers hit more than 11 3-point shots only twice. In an 80-65 win over South Alabama, LSU hit 12-of-17 (.706) 3s. In a 74-68 loss to Rice, the Tigers matched the mark, though this time on 12-of-28 (.429) shooting.
“I thought our execution was good,” Johnson said. “We talked about this game not being a situation where we worried about offense. We were going to get our shots. We are bigger, stronger and more talented.
“We stayed aggressive and stuck with our offensive execution instead of being tentative. It’s a good win for us.”
It counts just one, and LSU now turns its focus to a road stretch that includes a date with Coastal Carolina before the Charleston Classic tips next Thursday.
But sitting at 1-0 out of the gates, Johnson – forever the tough coach to please – didn’t have many negatives to share following the team’s 22-point win.
“I thought our overall intensity was very good,” Johnson said. “In terms of being a cohesive unit, I thought it was pretty impressive.
“This team has been pretty consistent with what they show in practice and show in scrimmages … we have the capability of scoring the ball in about five or six spots.”